Interview of Carl D. Riggs
by Professor Horace Bliss
February 1, 1981
Horace Bliss: I've heard that name Brillhart somewhere. How did he come into the picture on the Station?
Carl D. Riggs: Well, Mr. Brillhart, Brill, as we all called him, became interested in the work we were doing and would drive down from Madill which is only a short distance away from the Station to observe our activities. He spent several days with us throughout the eight and a half to nine weeks we were there and even spent one night on board the barge with us. He had acquired, or his bank had acquired, a shell of a building and six acres of land which was to have been a resort hotel, but the developer over extended himself and the bank was forced to foreclose. The bank had no use for a shell of a building and six of acres of land on the north shore of Lake Texoma, and so Mr. Brillhart got the idea of giving that to the University if the University would develop it into a permanent fishery research station on Lake Texoma. He bought that property from his own bank's sheriff sale and did indeed give it to the University for such a purpose. When I was approached about the idea of doing this, I thought it would be a better idea to develop on a broader basis instead of simply a fishery research station, to have a biological research station so that we could investigate the total biology of the lake and the area around the lake and that's what we finally decided to do.
Horace Bliss: If I understand you rightly, Carl, all you had was a shell of the main building that didn't even have a roof, is that correct?
Carl D. Riggs: That is correct. It was unimproved land and this shell, concrete block building was all it was with an incomplete roof, not even concrete floors in most of the area. What the University did was to get the interest of Boyd Gunning who was then the Director of the Alumni Association and I believe the OU Foundation and Boyd helped us to make contact with the legislature and with the very, very staunch support of Raymond Gary, who you remember later became Governor of the State, but at that time was Senator from Marshall County and at that particular time Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the Senate. We got an appropriation of some $90,000 to refurbish and complete the original building and that was done but it was not done quite on schedule so instead of opening the Station in June of 1950 as we had planned, we had to postpone the opening until the first of July and so the first summer session which was in 1950 was in July and August of that year, rather than in June and July as all subsequent sessions have been.
Horace Bliss: What was the administrative arrangement for the first session, Carl?
Carl D. Riggs: Well, remember I was still a relatively new person at OU and so I was named Acting Director of the Biological Station and I had an Advisory Committee which consisted then of Larry Snyder who was Dean of the Graduate College and Howard Larsh, Chairman of the Botany/Microbiology Department and Teague Self who was Chairman of the Zoology Department. We all were very compatible group and worked well together with the aid of Mr. Gunning, again, we did manage to do all the logistical things to make possible beginning the session.
Horace Bliss: What was the first session or first couple of years, how much were you able to do down there?
Carl D. Riggs: Well, I can't remember in detail without checking back on some records the exact number of students that we had those first two years, we didn't have a large number. I think we had something like twenty-five or thirty the first year and moved up in the mid forties the second year and most of the students we had did come the first two years from the University of Oklahoma. Our faculty, the first year, with one exception, came from the Botany and/or and/or Zoology Departments at OU and some of the faculty members, Elroy Rice, John Goodman, Teague Self, served for a number of years on the faculty of the succeeding sessions.
Horace Bliss: What sort of courses were you able to offer and where did the students live while you were down there?
Carl D. Riggs: Well, the courses that were offered were Botany/Zoology courses and they were such courses as: fishery biology, ornithology, natural history of vertebrates, natural history of invertebrates, parasitology, entomology, good basic field biology oriented courses. Both students and faculty lived all in that one main building, which had two laboratories, one dining room, and one little recreational area and the rest were divided up into a men's dormitory which was a large single room with a common bath at one end of it with about forty beds in it and then a women's dorm which was upstairs and divided into individual two and three room apartments, and faculty quarters in apartments on the first floor of the building. All of the personnel then lived there and the meals were cooked in the kitchen, which is still there. You know the kitchen right behind the dining room and served in that dining room, and the students and faculty paid a common board bill for the entire board and room bill for the entire summer. Because of the newness of this sort of activity to me and others who were there, we did our local food buying in the town of Madill or in the town of Kingston for dairy products and we did arrange to have a local dairy deliver milk into the Station. I remember that well because unfortunately that first July it rained twenty-seven out of thirty-one days and the road way into the Station became impassable and the milk truck had to be pulled through by a tractor every day that it delivered and every day that it left. That experience resulted in building a new road before the second summer and that road was built my my walking along an imaginary contour being followed by a large bulldozer that the Army Engineers furnished and that then became the permanent road into the Station and is that today.
Horace Bliss: I think I've seen on my visits down there some pretty good collections of plants and animals but when were those started?
Carl D. Riggs: Well, the collecting of animal and plant specimens for teaching purposes began the very first summer that we were at the Station, and a number of important distributional records for the State and for that general area had been established at the Biological Station and not only is there a large collection of plant and animal materials at the Station, but the collections in the major museums up on the Norman campus and in other museums around the country were made at the Station. So that has been one very valuable function of that aspect of activity there.
Horace Bliss: The times I have been down there-there have been some women in the kitchen and I'm wondering who runs the menu?
Carl D. Riggs: That has varied over the years, but that first year I was a bachelor, I talked Ida Self, Teague Self's wife, into being the Dean of Women for the handful of girls that we had there and also the meal planner. We had as our cook, a man from Norman, O.M. Stricklin, who either Strick or his wife, served as cook for a number of years after that very year and Strick did the cooking and he loved to fish and when he wasn't cooking he was fishing. They've had different cooks since that time and the meals are no longer planned by the people who do the cooking in the kitchen. The food supplying is now done totally by wholesalers who bring the food in on a weekly basis, based on orders given to them in advance.
Horace Bliss: On the visits that I have been down there recently there seem to be the same number of cooks, and if I don't bring them down a can of popcorn, they don't treat me right.
Carl D. Riggs: Well, I can understand that, cooks like favors just the same as anybody else. One of the things I wanted to mention is the first year at the Station was a difficult one in many ways. I mentioned the fact that we didn't even start classes until July 1 even then the building was not completed and so we had carpenters and painters working on the walls of the various rooms there including the laboratories, we only was two labs for six classes and therefore, we had either two classes meeting in the same room at the same time, or more frequently one would meet outside under a large tree and we had portable blackboards and the students were just as attentive and learned as much out there perhaps more than they would have inside. As a result of that crowded situation, however, we knew that we had to expand and expand rapidly, and so we immediately began plans for the next session of the legislature to get some additional money. Raymond Gary became President of the Senate and was able again to help us in getting, I think a hundred and ten thousand dollar appropriation for the building of three additional laboratories and a water processing plant so that we would have adequate water. The first year we tried to use well water and we simply couldn't get a well that would deliver water of a decent quality that would take care of cooking and drinking and bathing, etc. Quite often there was as much sand coming out of the shower head as there was water and even one time the water had a little oil in it, which excited some people, but never amounted to anything.
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